Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Junior Seau Fallout

I haven't had much to say about Junior Seau, yet. When it happened, my first reaction was that we didn't know anything, so I shouldn't say anything- and it'd be really weird to put together a blog post saying that I shouldn't say anything.

And frankly, we're about two weeks later, and we don't really know that much more. But, the rest of the NFL community is reacting. And I have the funny feeling that this is going to be a long, continuing debate as we discover what, if anything, actually happened here, and start to come to terms with it. This is an important debate. So it sucks that it's already playing out on some pretty fucked up terms.

Specifically, I'm thinking of Kurt Warner. As you probably heard, Warner had this to say in response to Seau's death:

"And when you hear things like the bounties, when you know certain things having played the game, and then obviously when you understand the size, the speed, the violence of the game, and then you couple that with situations like Junior Seau — was that a ramification of all the years playing? And things that go with that. It scares me as a dad. I just wonder — I wonder what the league's going to be like. I love that the commissioner is doing a lot of things to try to clean up the game from that standpoint and improve player safety, which helps, in my mind, a lot. But it's a scary thing for me."

Note carefully that Warner wasn't even committed to keeping his sons out of football, let alone saying what anyone else should do. He just voiced some honest concerns about the game.

ESPN commentator and former player Merrill Hoge had this to say in response:

"I think it's irresponsible and unacceptable. He has thrown the game that has been so good to him under the bus. He sounds extremely uneducated ... Head trauma is not the issue here — it's how head trauma is treated. The game is safer than it has ever been because we're being proactive with head trauma. That is the biggest issue."

There's a lot of dumb packed in there. I see no way that voicing concern about the safety of football is "irresponsible"- quite the opposite, in fact. Nor do I see the need for the completely overused "under the bus" metaphor- c'mon, it's not like the NFL was a charity keeping Warner afloat. He earned his spot on NFL rosters, and made a lot of money for the NFL while doing it. He doesn't owe it anything, let alone his silence. And of course, Hoge is the one who comes off as "uneducated"- head trauma is most certainly one of the issues, otherwise the NFL wouldn't be trying to get it out of the game. And anyway, I don't see where Warner was talking about head trauma as the exclusive issue here, so Hoge is missing the point a little.

But, disagree though I do with Hoge, I'm glad he spoke up. This is, as I said, an important debate, and we need to get as many views as possible. I'm fine with Hoge disagreeing with me- though I'll admit, it helps that his points are so easy to pick apart- I just want to make sure all the views are represented.

Which brings us to Amani Toomer, who said

"I'd definitely have my son to play football. That's what the Toomer family does. We all play football. But what this reminds me of is the guy at the basketball court, who once he gets done playing takes the ball and ruins the game for everybody else. I think Kurt Warner needs to keep his opinions to himself when it comes to this. Everything that he's gotten in his life has come from playing football. He works at the NFL Network right now. For him to try and trash the game, it seems to me that it's just a little disingenuous to me."

And that's just not helping anyone. Toomer is taking it a step beyond disagreeing with Warner and flat out saying that Warner's opinion should not have been voiced.  Maybe Warner's right, maybe he's wrong, but we'll never find out if Toomer had his way. And I think figuring out who's right and wrong- and who's opinion doesn't even fall into the categories of "right" and "wrong"- is the only way football's going to move forward. But we can't do that when one "side" in this debate is saying that another "side" shouldn't even speak up.

But then, Toomer actually reveals why his reaction- and Hoge's, and a lot of other people's- is so over-the-top. "That's what the Toomer family does," he said. And that's the key here. For Toomer and the people like him, football isn't just a game. It isn't just business or an industry or even a lifestyle- it's part of their heritage. It's something that was passed down to them, that they want to pass down to their children.

This isn't that strange. We've all got stories of our dad taking us to our first baseball game, or of teaching our kids to shoot hoops. Sports are part of our heritage, for all of us (or at least, everyone reading this blog). Hell, that's why this blog takes sports so seriously (when you get passed the made-up curse words and dick jokes) When you get that, you can see why some people take attacks on sports very personally.

What is strange is that Warner wasn't telling anyone it shouldn't be part of their heritage. He wasn't even certain that he won't pass it down to his own children (Troy Aikman seemed a lot more resolute, in fact). Warner wasn't calling Toomer or Hoge or anyone else bad parents; he was just trying to explain his thought process on a very difficult decision.

I'm sure I can't read minds (believe me, I've done the necessary testing), but I think Hoge and Toomer's overly-defensive response reveals quite a bit about the strength of their arguments- and their own doubts about football.

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